The Governor’s Arts and Humanities Awards took place last Thursday at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.
While Gov. Michael Dunleavy himself did not attend, artists, educators and advocates from around the state received awards from his commissioner of the Department of Administration.
But this Wednesday, the governor will lay out his budget plan for the coming year. And it is unclear what that will mean for the people and programs represented at the awards ceremony.
Among the awardees were Metlakatla teachers Jack Hudson and John Hudson III, father and son, who received the Alaska Native Arts Award.
They’ve been teaching Northwest Coast and Tsimshian arts to the community for close to half a century.
Father Jack, who stood stoically onstage, asked his son, John, to speak for him. And his son told a story about the school that maybe he didn’t tell his dad he was going to share.
“In that old wooden building, there was no bathroom,” said Hudson, who occasionally looked over at his dad. “And (because of) that, he felt bad for the students because the bathroom was a long ways away. And when we have 75-mile-an-hour winds blowing in Southeast Alaska, like you’ve experienced here, some of the kids didn’t want to make the long trek to the bathroom. So he found a private corner, and set up a screen, and cut a hole in the floor with a trap door so some of the kids could pee down the hole,” he said to a laughing audience.
The elder Hudson, who didn’t speak at any other part of the speech, actually tried to cut his son off at the end.
“You took a risk, Dad,” said Hudson as the laughter continued.
Beyond a fun anecdote about the myriad of ways it takes to be a good teacher, and several examples of how their program has benefited the community of Metlakatla, the younger Hudson took a moment to address the deciders in the audience.
“Our program is part of the public education system. And I hope that our elected officials can see the value in our public schools and continue to fund them, so programs like ours, and so many others, don’t become in jeopardy of disappearing,” said Hudson.
They received their award, a handmade wooden sculpture from Anchorage artist Mark Wedekind, from the commissioner of the Department of Administration, Kelly Tshibaka.
She told the audience how being in “A Christmas Carol” at the Anchorage Community Theatre when she was young positively affected her life.
“In fact, if I hadn’t ever joined that “Christmas Carol” production, I would probably would still be a hardened, reclusive personality, and I never would be the leader that I’ve grown up to be,” said Tshibaka.
So Tshibaka understands the value of the arts and arts education, and she said she’s not the only one.
“I do see that the governor really prioritizes children and education,” said Tshibaka. “That doesn’t mean we have the money to sustain it the way that we’ve been funding it before. We haven’t really been funding it, we’ve actually just been overspending.”
Tshibaka also said the governor is committed to balancing the budget.
John Hudson III had this message for the Dunleavy administration as it works through this process: “Please reconsider the budget cuts that he’s proposed during the middle of the school year. And maybe consider some other places that money could be saved, but not with the future of our schools and our students, and our quality teachers here in the state of Alaska.”
The process of deciding what stays and goes starts this Wednesday when the governor shares his priorities for the state budget.
The awards ceremony was a collaboration between the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation and the Office of the Governor.
360 North is under contract to broadcast the Governor’s Arts and Humanities Awards.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the Hudsons have taught for close to half a decade, rather than half a century.